Miami-Dade County

Miami commission puts off public art plan, approves Lotus House expansion

Lotus House, a homeless shelter for women and children, is planning an expansion of its cramped Overtown campus.
Lotus House, a homeless shelter for women and children, is planning an expansion of its cramped Overtown campus.

At the last minute, Miami’s city commission on Thursday postponed a hearing to consider a plan to establish a far-reaching Art in Public Places program that would dip into private developers’ pockets to pay for art around town.

Just 30 minutes before the scheduled 6 p.m. hearing, the commission approved a motion by Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez to put off final consideration of the plan, previously approved on first reading, until Nov. 17. Suarez cited “significant concerns” raised over the proposal, developed by the city planning department.

Suarez did not elaborate and there was no discussion. But the influential Builders Association of South Florida is seeking a dollar cap on the amount to be paid by developers and had asked for a postponement in a letter to the commission.

Separately, to applause, the commission then unanimously approved a zoning exception and waivers that will allow a $25 million expansion and redevelopment of the Lotus House shelter for homeless women and children in Overtown. The expansion would double capacity of the shelter, now housed in a set of rehabbed buildings that are bursting at the seams, to around 490 women and kids.

The city public-art plan would build on Miami-Dade County’s well-regarded Art in Public Places program, which requires 1.5 percent of all public project funds to be set aside for the commissioning or acquisition of art. Miami would assume management of the county program within city boundaries and extend its reach to the private realm.

Under the city plan, in the works for a year, developers of projects in the city worth more than $1 million would be required to set aside 1.25 percent of a project’s hard construction costs toward artworks to be installed on site, or, alternatively, to pay 1 percent of costs into a new city arts trust fund.

City planners had previously addressed concerns raised by the association over the impact on construction costs by limiting the fee to hard construction costs, and not including “soft” costs such as design in the calculation. But the Builders Association then asked for the cap after receiving comments from members, the group’s CEO, Truly Burton, said in her letter.

The plan also drew a postponement request from the board of the Wynwood Business Improvement District, a city-created agency, which wants the red-hot hipster neighborhood exempted from the program. A BID resolution says the street art that defines the district’s redevelopment would not meet the program’s requirements.

Several Miami-Dade municipalities have adopted their own public-art program in recent years, including Doral, Coral Gables, Homestead and Palmetto Bay, all of which tap the private sector. Miami Beach has its own established program as well, but it’s limited to public projects.